Fatigue in Older Adults: Symptoms and Possible Causes

February 22, 2019

Photo by D A V I D S O N L U N A on Unsplash


Fatigue is common among seniors: when energy levels are not enough, you just cannot be as active as you used to be. Oftentimes, it forces older adults to switch to a sedentary lifestyle, which aggravates the situation. You cannot maintain decent physical activity levels any more, become depressed, and blame your age for all this.

As a phenomenon, fatigue is not a disease. It is a symptom which can accompany a variety of health problems and be one of the consequences of your lifestyle. Not all older adults experience fatigue due to ills: some cases can be explained by working too much, failing to sleep enough, etc. In fact, most of the time fatigue can be traced to some flaws in your diet, exercise regimen (lack of one is also considered a flaw!), anxiety and other things you can fix quite easily. However, the range of causes is so diverse that it takes a professional to diagnose chronic fatigue and find its cause. But first things first.

What are the symptoms?

Fatigue is a state of weariness, which does not go away after you have rested. The difference between being overworked, which is a common thing that is fixed not at the doctor?s, but in the comfort of your own home, is that fatigue develops over time and drains your energy to such an extent that you cannot replenish it by means of relaxation. Exhaustion becomes unrelenting, which invariably affects your mood. Depression, anxiety, and lack of motivation and concentration often accompany fatigue.

It is quite easy to differentiate between being overtired and feeling fatigue ? the latter is unnerving and leaves you chronically exhausted.

What are the causes?

The range of causes behind the problem can really be diverse. This list includes but is not limited to the following.

  • Adverse effects caused by medications. Many older adults take medications, because cardiovascular diseases, diabetes and many other health problems are more prevalent among them. Even if you do not suffer from any of these, you may be taking medications for pain, allergy, or other persisting problems. Antidepressants are another type of pills that can underlie fatigue.
  • From liver problems to sleep apnea, the range of health problems that have fatigue as one of their symptoms is impressive. You can find a list of these at the Mayo Clinic?s website.
  • Not having enough sleep. If you do not sleep enough, it almost invariably results in fatigue. Older adults should sleep for 7 to 8 hours in order to provide the body with enough rest. Should you fail to do it regularly, chronic weariness is likely to follow.
  • Mental problems. Stress and anxiety, as well as other mental health problems, can manifest themselves in a variety of ways, and lack of energy is often what constitutes a major part of the depression symptom list.
  • Following an unhealthy diet. The food we eat is supposed to be a source of nutrients, whereas processed foods and the so-called Western diet contribute to malnutrition, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular problems, etc., and affect all other systems, including the brain ? the latter is affected to such an extent that its function can become impaired, which also leads to fatigue (to say nothing of a barrage of other symptoms). However, it is not only through the brain that a poor diet can lead to chronic weariness and energy depletion. If the levels of iron in your blood are not enough, it can also cause fatigue due to anemia.
  • Apart from damaging your entire body, alcohol and substance abuse impair the functions performed by the gastrointestinal tract, which means it cannot absorb nutrients from food properly (see the previous paragraph). Besides, addiction affects the mind, with most addicted people being depressed and having mental health problems, which contributes to fatigue development.
  • Medical treatments. Common medications are not the only way you can develop fatigue through treatment. Cancer treatment, such as radiation and chemotherapy, has a profound effect on the body, and one of the adverse effects is fatigue. If you have recently had your hip replaced or endured some other serious surgical intervention, it may also be behind your fatigue.
  • Not having a purpose in life. However odd it may sound, when you have no chores, no one to take care of, and nothing to expect, you are likely to develop fatigue soon ? even (actually, because!) you have nothing to do. Depression, lack of physical activity, not feeling useful ? all these are major problems among senior adults.
  • Consuming too much caffeine. Caffeinated drinks can disrupt your sleep, thus leading to fatigue. It is best to avoid soda and limit consumption of coffee and tea (these can be beneficial for health, so cutting down on them does not mean ditching them!).
  • A less common cause is the jet lag disorder. If you travel a lot to far-flung areas, it can result in chronic weariness due to disrupted sleep and your body trying to adapt to the new conditions but failing to do it because you change them too often.

There is another thing that should be mentioned here, and it is dehydration. It is easy to take dehydration for fatigue, but these are different problems. Many older adults are admitted to hospital because of dehydration. It is important to keep your body well-hydrated, but seniors often fail to do it, and their health problems exacerbate the situation.

If you feel that you cannot relax and your energy levels are constantly low, seek medical attention.

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